For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge. True to form, this week’s photo inspires morbid thoughts.
Dawn was breaking. He was preparing to say Mass as he did every morning, even though he was in hiding, even though there was no one to hear it. He had heard their horses clatter on the cobbled courtyard and their rough, soldiers’ voices. He hoped his hosts would not be too badly treated, but after all, they were only doing God’s work. They would get their reward in heaven. Slowly and deliberately he carried on vesting, repeating the familiar gestures with their comforting symbolism. Boots drummed on the wooden stairs. He placed the stole about his neck and waited for the door to burst open.
The soldiers pushed him down the stairs, as if he offered resistance. When he stumbled, they laughed and kicked him to get up. He let his eyes turn inwards and thought of Jesus on the way to Calvary and forced his growing terror to be silent. He was a priest of God, these ruffians would pay for their sins unless they repented. Repentance of unbelievers was, fortunately, unlikely.
In the courtyard, a nag waited patiently between the shafts of a cart. In the cart were his hosts, their clothes torn, their faces bruised and puffy. Dame Agnes tried in vain to cover the flesh the soldiers’ ill-treatment had exposed. He turned his face away, frowning slightly.
Sir James held himself like a military man, the bruises on his face like so many war trophies. The priest noticed the slight tremor of his jaw and opened his mouth to give him courage—he had been but doing his duty to protect his priest—but one of the heretics slapped him in the face and the words died unsaid.
Later, the priest died in a turmoil of ecstasy and fear. James, his bruises turned black, and his lady Agnes died solemnly with the terrified, tearful faces of their children in their eyes.
The room is still there, still flooded with dawn light of that last terrible dawn, by day and by night. But there are no ghosts, no priestly hauntings or soldiers’ souls unable to rest. Just light.